This summer, the Chicago Bulls essentially made one single swap. By allowing Marco Belinelli to leave for the San Antonio Spurs and signing free agent Mike Dunleavy, Chicago’s sole offseason move slightly upgraded its 3-point shooting. The Bulls also allowed Nate Robinson to walk and selected Tony Snell and Erik Murphy in the 2013 NBA Draft, but for the most part, it was a pretty quiet offseason without a lot of roster changes.
Luckily for the Bulls, they’ll be getting back a former MVP this season in Derrick Rose. He didn’t play a single game last year but even without Rose, Chicago beat out a more talented Brooklyn Nets team in the first round and stole Game 1 on the road against the champion Miami Heat before being unceremoniously eliminated. With a healthy Derrick Rose on the floor, “unceremoniously” won’t be a word used to describe the Chicago Bulls’ playoff exit next season if they’re eliminated. But does Rose’s return let Chicago off the hook for hardly making any moves this offseason?
Obviously, a core nucleus of Rose, Luol Deng,Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah is good enough to compete with anybody on any given night. The fact that they’re able to pepper in Kirk Hinrich, an on-the-rise Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Mike Dunleavy as role players certainly enhances that claim. Those guys can all play defense, which is the biggest reason the Bulls were able to stay competitive without Rose last season. But since Chicago was 29th in points per game last season (93.2 PPG), putting the ball in the hole is a necessity for the Bulls to seriously contend for a title this year.
Rose’s long-anticipated return will clearly help with that. Swapping a 35.7 percent 3-point shooter in Belinelli for a Dunleavy’s 42.8 percent from downtown is another step in the right direction. And although he might not get consistent minutes this season as a rookie, Tony Snell should be able to contribute from 3-point territory down the road too. But those additions still may not be enough, even for a team that only allowed opponents 92.9 points per game last season.
Plain and simple, the Bulls didn’t do enough this offseason to put themselves in a better position to win a championship. Yes, getting Derrick Rose back next season will be a huge boost to the offense. His career averages of 21 points and 6.8 assists per game will definitely help jumpstart Chicago’s weak offense. But Rose’s numbers will also come at the cost of the offensive production of guys like Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and other guys who were forced to step up last season. Will that increased production carry over when Rose returns? Only time will tell. But if the Chicago Bulls revert back to the team that was always reliant on Rose to save them late in games with a big bucket, they won’t be able to seriously challenge Miami in the East.
It’s never a bad thing to have too many good players on a roster. So although Chicago has a great nucleus, adding even more depth would’ve been beneficial to a team that could always use additional offense. I already wrote about how the Bulls should’ve pursued Al Harrington, who ended up signing with the Washington Wizards. And although Chicago was also looking at adding Antawn Jamison, they failed after he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers. And that’s leaving out helpful free agents like Paul Millsap or Nate Robinson who were signed for bargain prices.
Depth is incredibly important for any championship team. For example, the Los Angeles Clippers have spent the last two seasons working on that key area and look poised to finally make some noise in the West. The Oklahoma City Thunder, on the other hand, seem to have gone in the opposite direction, rightfully calling to question whether or not they can win a title with only two stars and little backup. The Chicago Bulls currently lie somewhere in the middle between those two extremes; they have a solid core and some bench support, but they could always use more depth.
The Indiana Pacers spent the offseason bolstering their bench, one of the key weaknesses that caused them to fall short to Miami in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. They brought in Luis Scola, Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson to help improve that weak spot. The Miami Heat, one of the deepest and most loaded teams in the league, added Greg Oden. In the worst-case scenario that Oden can’t stay healthy, the Heat are still the same team that won the title last season. Best-case scenario, they just picked up a double-double machine that adds even more lineup options.
Suddenly the Bulls swapping Marco Belinelli for Mike Dunleavy doesn’t seem as impressive. Even with a healthy Derrick Rose (which isn’t a guarantee, by the way), the Bulls may not have enough support to get by Miami, Indiana or even the Nets in the East. Chicago’s management did the right thing by not trying to trade All-Stars Luol Deng or Joakim Noah this offseason. Giving this talented, hard-working and connected nucleus another chance with a healthy leader is the right course of action. But there were so many pieces in play this summer that could have undoubtedly increased Chicago’s title odds. If the Bulls fall short in the playoffs again this season, they’ll have to look back on the 2013 offseason as a missed opportunity.